WTF Fun Fact 13694 – History of the Chainsaw

The history of the chainsaw, a tool linked with forestry and tree felling, has its roots in surgical practice. Specifically, it aided in childbirth.

Medical Origins of the Chainsaw

The initial conception of the chainsaw was far removed from the lumber yards. Invented by Scottish doctors John Aitken and James Jeffray, it was designed to address a specific challenge in childbirth. According to the 1785 edition of “Principles Of Midwifery, Or Puerperal Medicine,” this crude yet innovative device was intended for use in symphysiotomy procedures. They widen the pubic cartilage and remove obstructive bone. The goal is to facilitate the delivery process when the baby becomes stuck in the birth canal.

This “flexible saw,” as it was described, allowed for the precise cutting away of flesh, cartilage, and bone. Despite its gruesome application, the invention was a medical breakthrough. It also offered a new solution to a life-threatening dilemma faced by mothers and babies.

The Chainsaw Through History

The chainsaw’s medical use continued into the 19th century, with the development of the osteotome by German physician Bernhard Heine in 1830. This device, further refined the concept of the chainsaw for surgical purposes. “The Lancet London” described it as comprising two plates that contained a toothed wheel operated by a handle to cut through bone and tissue.

However, the narrative of the chainsaw took a significant turn at the start of the 20th century, moving beyond the confines of the operating room to the great outdoors.

Birth of the Modern Chainsaw

The transformation of the chainsaw into a tool for woodcutting began earnestly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Patents filed in 1883 for the Chain Sawing Machine and in 1906 for the Endless Chain Saw laid the groundwork for its application in producing wooden boards and felling giant redwoods. By 1918, Canadian James Shand patented the first portable chainsaw. This marked a new era for the chainsaw’s use in forestry.

Andreas Stihl subsequently developed and patented the electric chainsaw in 1926. Then came the gas-powered model in 1929. This made the tool more accessible and efficient for logging activities. These early models were large and required two men to operate. They set the stage for post-World War II advancements that made chainsaws lighter and more user-friendly, allowing single-person operation.

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Source: “Why were chainsaws invented?” — BBC Science Focus

WTF Fun Fact 13066 – Video Games and Surgeons

Surgeons who play video games for at least a few hours a week make fewer errors during surgery. This specifically relates to non-invasive and very precise laparoscopic surgery.

Surgeons who play video games

In an article titled The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century (cited below), researchers from Beth Israel Medical Center, New York University Medical Center, Montefiore Medical Center, Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center, Iowa State University, and Virginia Commonwealth University found that video games are correlated with better surgical outcomes.

According to the authors:

“Past video game play in excess of 3 h/wk correlated with 37% fewer errors…and 27% faster completion…Current video game players made 32% fewer errors…performed 24% faster…and scored 26% better overall…than their nonplaying colleagues…Regression analysis also indicated that video game skill and past video game experience are significant predictors of demonstrated laparoscopic skills.”

Videos games for surgical success

The researchers set out to measure the relationship between “laparoscopic skills and suturing capability, video game scores, and video game experience.”

Because they found a correlation between video game skills and positive laparoscopic surgical skills, the researchers suggest that medical training curricula might video games in the future. But this applied to surgery that didn’t require a large incision. Instead, laparoscopic surgery uses a small incision or hole and is largely computer-guided. It’s a more popular kind of surgery because there are typically fewer risks involved for the patient and less down-time.

While the authors acknowledged the drawbacks of playing video games excessively (such as poor grades and possible heightened aggressiveness), they also highlighted the benefits.

More specifically:

“Disturbing negative correlations with video game play include lower grades in school; aggressive thoughts, emotions, and actions (including physical fights); and decreasing positive prosocial behaviors. Excessive game playing has also been linked to childhood obesity, muscular and skeletal disorders, and even epileptic seizures. Other physical findings have included increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones (norepinephrine and epinephrine)… However, positive benefits of video game play include increased performance on eye-hand coordination tasks and neuropsychological tests and better reaction time, spatial visualization, and mental rotation.”

The benefits of gaming

The authors cited other studies that found correlations between playing video games and the ability of gamers to process visual information, improve their spacial awareness skills, and develop better visual attention processing.

These are all crucial skills for surgeons.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century” — JAMA Surgery

WTF Fun Fact 13054 – Longest Surgery Ever Performed

The longest surgical procedure in history took place in 2001 and lasted 103 hours. It took place in Singapore, and the team separated a pair of conjoined twin sisters from Nepal who were born sharing a brain cavity. The girls were infants at the time of surgery and lived to be 7 years old.

The longest surgery ever performed

Ganga and Jamuna Shrestha were born in Nepal. They were conjoined twins who had no real chance at life without a wildly expensive surgery that required a team of highly skilled surgeons.

The team included 16 doctors – from neurologists to plastic surgeons – who worked around the clock and who doubted that the operation could be entirely successful.

An infant craniopagus

The surgery on the infant girls from Khalanga, a mountain village in Nepal is called a craniopagus and before that day, the longest surgery was around 30 hours.

The girls’ actual separation took place 88 hours into the surgery. The whole event lasted 52 hours longer than expected and surgeons had to take short naps in shifts in order to stay alert throughout the procedure.

According the The Guardian (cited below): “Claire Ang, one of the anaesthetists, said the team went through a whole gamut of emotions.

‘It varied from hysterical to euphoric and involved light-headedness, frustration and mood swings – from being very emotional to not caring at all and just wanting to sleep,’ she said.”

The paper also noted that the operation was made possible by advanced computer technology.

“The imaging software combines a series of scans of the babies’ brains to build a 3-D virtual model. The Singapore surgeons spent six months studying the brains and rehearsing. Wearing 3-D glasses, they manipulated the image by moving their hands, without buttons, keyboard or mouse.”


The girls did survive the surgery. Sadly, Ganga died of a chest infection at age 7. Jamuna is still alive.

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Source: “Nepalese babies survive 103-hour operation” — The Guardian

WTF Fun Fact 13047 – Robert Liston’s Infamous Surgery

Robert Liston was a respected 19th-century surgeon. In fact, surgical instruments have been named in his honor. And while he might have taken great pride in amputating limbs as fast as possible, the goal was to save the patient from prolonged pain. There were no anesthetics back in that day. The faster the surgery was over, the better. But one amputation went horribly awry, killing 3 people.

The surgery with a 300% fatality rate

While there’s a chance it may be an apocryphal story, Liston’s most infamous amputation involved 3 fatalities. During a leg amputation, he cut so fast that he severed the fingers of his surgical assistant. And while he was switching instruments, he slashed the white coat of a doctor observing nearby.

Many patients died during amputations in the 19th century, so one fatality could be expected. However, the assistant ended up dying of a blood infection. To top it off, the man whose coat he had slashed wasn’t physically injured but ended up dying of shock because he thought he had been stabbed.

That makes this amputation the only one with a 300% fatality rate.

Robert Liston, showman

Liston was a show-off, but he was also a great surgeon. He also aided in the introduction of ether as an anesthetic.

During one procedure that lasted only 25 seconds, he gave the patient ether, severed the limb, and when the patient came to he asked when the surgery would take place. This greatly impressed the crowd. (In those days, surgeries took place in operating theaters with many other physicians watching.)

Robert Liston died in a sailing accident not long after that and didn’t get to see the evolution of anesthetics. However, he was remembered not only for being “the fastest knife of the West End” but for his willingness to take on the cases that other doctors would not.  WTF fun facts

Source: “‘Time Me, Gentlemen’: The Fastest Surgeon of the 19th Century” — The Atlantic

WTF Fun Fact 12410 – The Donda West Law

The Donda West Law, also known as Assembly Bill #1116, us an act added to Sections 1638.2 and 2259.8 of the California Business and Professions Code, relating to cosmetic surgery. It was approved by the Governor on October 11, 2009. 

It reads, in part:

“This bill would enact the Donda West Law, which would prohibit the performance of an elective cosmetic surgery procedure on a patient unless, within 30 days prior to the procedure, the patient has received an appropriate physical examination by, and has received written clearance for the procedure from, a licensed physician and surgeon, a certified nurse practitioner, or a licensed physician assistant, as specified, or, as applied to an elective facial cosmetic surgery procedure, a licensed dentist or licensed physician and surgeon. The bill would require the physical examination to include the taking of an appropriate medical history, to be confirmed on the day of the procedure. The bill would also provide that a violation of these provisions would not constitute a crime.”

Donda West died on November 10, 2007, at age 58, the day after undergoing cosmetic surgery. following heart problems. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office said that her death was due to coronary artery disease and multiple post-operative factors from cosmetic surgery. The LAPD investigated her death further after learning that her doctor had settled two large malpractice cases and had convictions for alcohol-related offenses. – WTF Fun Facts

Source: Assembly Bill #1116 – The California Legislature